Hey Interior Designers, Here’s What General Contractors Want You to Know (A Collaboration Primer, Part 1)
You don’t need BIM to know that with any project, there will often be clashes between interior designers and general contractors.
There is good news: More often than not, conflicts on the job site are caused by misunderstanding and miscommunication. (It’s not like contractors are inherently jerks or out to get you.) And since you’re both working towards a common goal, it’s best to get along and ensure that work goes as smoothly as possible.
Here are a few things to remember about how general contractors operate, and how to play nice.
1 – They’re not trying to be critical of you.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Oh, you must be here to do the curtains and cushions!” It’s tempting to take it as an insult and make snide comments of your own, but think about it for a second: That really may be all they know about what you do.
Take this as an opportunity to educate. We don’t mean to launch a full-on lecture right then and there — in the moment, you’ll probably want to smile and take it in stride. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to display your knowledge during pre-design meetings and throughout construction.
2 – General contractors are more than just builders.
Did your contractor just come up to you with an alternative for a product that didn’t quite meet budget requirements? That’s my job, you may instinctively think, stay in your lane, buddy.
Thing is, even though general contractors have a reputation for being just builders, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Experienced contractors, in particular, will have lots of experience and can offer design insight.
This doesn’t mean they’re replacing something just because they don’t think it looks good (see above). “We’re just trying to stay within budget,” says Jon Runquist, President of Sonoma Construction, LLC. Don’t feel threatened — yes, there’s skill overlap, but they’re not trying to edge you out.
3 – Discuss early.
Involve your contractors in the discussion as early as possible. Explain your overall design concept, and then provide as many details about your plan as possible. Get them to buy in, if you can.
This is important because your contractors will help you determine what’s feasible and what’s impossible with what you want to do. You may want to tear down a wall, only to discover later on that it’s load-bearing and will cause the entire structure to fall down. You may also specify certain light fixtures in areas where they can’t be installed because there’s an A/C duct running though it.
The earlier you identify problems, the sooner you can change your plans, and the less resources you waste.
This also gives you a chance to align your timelines so that neither side grinds to a halt while waiting for the other. For example: You may not have finished planning one room even though the contractors have already finished restructuring a previous one. In this case, they either wait around with nothing to do (thus wasting earning potential); or build ahead of your plan, which might result in do-overs (which no one wants, and especially the client who’s going to have to pay for it).
4 – Discuss often.
Don’t be tempted into thinking that handing off schedules and specifications signals the end of your responsibility. The contractor may have installed the wrong product, which technically makes it their fault, but remember: The unhappy client will still think you’re partly to blame.
Make it a habit to meet once a week, if possible. This gives you a chance to check on progress, catch potential mistakes early, and reinforce your design intent. Ultimately, you prevent change orders and delays, and stay within budget as much as possible.
5 – Be thorough.
Be very clear on both sides about who’s responsible for what. Whose job is it to put in the purchase orders? Who is responsible to waiting for products to arrive and checking to make sure the right ones were delivered?
Establish independent checks and balances to minimize errors. Set up a sign-off system to ensure that everyone is in agreement that this is the exact specification of tiles that needs to be installed in the master bath.
At the end of the day, we all agree that we only want what’s best for the project. By looking ahead and being understanding, you’ll likely end up with a project you’ll be proud of, a satisfied client, and maybe even a friend or two.